So, as you might know, President Hugo Chavez has made it his personal mission to make Venezuela the largest garrison state in South America. His stated goal is to prepare his country to face a possible invasion from the United States. In doing so he
Of course, a lot of this comes from inept US meddling early on during the Bush Administration after a coup d'état by his countries military attempted to topple his government. Besides the fact that President Chavez attempted the same thing back when he was LTC Chavez of the Venezuelan Army, US intervention in Iraq has provided him a fantastic whipping post to stir up his electorate and model himself as the next Fidel Castro. In order to build this image, he has placed an order for large amounts of weapons from the Russian Federation, including attack helicopters and AK-103 assault rifles.
On the surface, for most countries this wouldn't be an issue, but this creates unique issues with Venezuela.
While Chavez’s colorful insults steal the headlines, the issue of greatest importance—the influx of thousands of rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition into a region rife with black market arms trafficking—has received scant meaningful attention. The illicit arms trade stocks the arsenals of Colombian rebels and international narcotics traffickers, and the Venezuelan military has already inadvertently contributed dozens of its old FAL assault rifles to this trade. A 2003 study by the RAND Corporation found that weapons, some of which "are registered to the Venezuelan Armed Forces...routinely move from Venezuela into Colombia." These findings are corroborated by a variety of sources, including Colombian government officials and defectors from the main rebel group, the FARC. In an interview that appeared in Jane’s Intelligence Review, a former member of the FARC’s ‘16th Front’ claimed that the rebels "...brought in rifles from Venezuela, such as used FALs in lots of 50..." from a supplier in Maracay, Venezuela’s main garrison town.
So besides the fact we have created a vocal opponent of the United States to slime our name on a world stage, we now have created a new source of weapons for the ongoing Civil War in Columbia. One has to ask how many lives will be claimed by these weapons if and when they filter to the different leftist revolutionary and rightist reactionary groups in Columbia.
The disturbing part of this, of course, is that this problem wouldn't be nearly as bad if we had payed attention to blowback from similar radical coup attempts in the past. But, of course, the main drawback to Republican foreign policy is that it more often than not takes the wizz-bang elements from bad techno-thrillers and spy novels and attempts to translate it into reality. Never mind that the real world tends to be a lot more complicated. With our current reputation, however, diplomatic overtures to control these arms will be greatly reduced in effectiveness.
Hopefully with a new congress and in 2008 a new administration we can attempt to mend bridges with the rest of the world. Since the end of the Cold War, we as the United States have pooh-poohed the influence of Soft Power. This blame spans the administration of Bush I, Clinton (to a lesser extent), and Bush II (to a much greater extent: Secretary Rumsfeld once commented that "[soft power] didn't exist") and if we expect the United States to continue to play a safe and prosperous role in world affairs we must endeavor to rebuild it, or else another state like the People's Republic of China who has less than questionable values to extend to the world at large is going to take our place.